Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city’s police and fire departments deserve credit for stepping up their response to safety and civility challenges.
Much more remains to be done, especially to address harm caused by a small subset of the city’s homeless population repeatedly victimizing people in certain neighborhoods with little consequence. City Hall’s belated response and high costs continue to need scrutiny. But efforts to improve responsiveness and try new solutions deserve support from the City Council and residents.
One new response is a program dubbed “Health One,” which Durkan and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins announced last week. The pilot program will dispatch firefighters teamed with a social worker to nonemergency calls downtown. It should provide a new way to help people with problems such as behavioral-health issues while reducing the burden such calls place on emergency crews.
Many other municipalities have similar outreach and assistance programs. For instance, the regional fire authority in Kent started a program in 2010 called FD Cares that now partners with multiple cities and health organizations, serving not just people in crisis on the street but also seniors and others with chronic health conditions by responding to nonemergency calls and connecting them to service providers.
Seattle should also consider creating a 311-type hotline to request nonemergency service calls, and provide real-time reporting of calls received and their disposition, similar to the model in New York City.
Simultaneously, Seattle is boosting police presence in seven neighborhoods this summer, under an emphasis program announced by Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best. Neighborhoods include several that have seen sharp increases in crimes, drawing complaints from neighborhood and business associations. It also coincides with a season that tends to see increased criminal activity.
This is needed not just because some are fearful but because more people are getting robbed, assaulted and burgled in certain areas. For instance, in Sodo, Fremont and Ballard — which are part of the emphasis program — crime increases far outpaced population growth in recent years.
Since this is Seattle, emphasis patrols were of course subject to a City Council grilling.
Thoughtful oversight is welcome, and questions should always be raised about whether city services are delivered equitably and efficiently, to maximize everyone’s benefit, or skewed by pressure from influential special interests. But it’s a day late and dollar short after the current council’s failures to prevent so many constituents — including immigrants, homeless residents and entry-level workers — from being victimized by prolific criminal offenders.
Durkan also convened a task force on criminal-justice problems. As the region awaits its recommendations, it’s encouraging to finally see the city responsive and trying different approaches.